Shell to quit US Arctic due to "unpredictable federal regulatory environment"

Guest post by David Middleton

Disappointing results from an initial rank wildcat can’t kill a play.

The cyclical ups and downs of product prices can’t kill a play.

High operating costs can’t kill a play.

Only massively incompetent government can kill a play.

“This is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome,” Marvin Odum, director of Shell’s Upstream Americas unit, said in a statement. While indications of oil and gas were present in the Burger J well in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, they weren’t sufficient to warrant further exploration, the company said. Shell will now plug and abandon the well.

Shell had planned a two-year drilling program starting this July. The company was seeking to resume work halted in 2012 when its main drilling rig ran aground and was lost. It was also fined for air pollution breaches. The Anglo-Dutch company first discovered oil and gas in the region in the late 1980s.

The company continues to see potential in the region and the decision not to explore further in Alaskan waters “reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska,” according to the statement.…ulations-costs

The potential of the Alaska OCS is nearly as large as the Central Gulf of Mexico…

Product prices and exploration results are by their nature, unpredictable. Operating costs are tied to product prices and regulatory requirements. Regulatory requirements must be predictable in order for any business to function.

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M Courtney
September 29, 2015 3:06 pm

Regulatory requirements aren’t the main issue in the Arctic.
The North Sea is well supported by the UK Government but is almost dormant right now as well.
(I wish the Tories looked after UK steel like that).
It’s fracking that’s lowered the price of oil and made this area not economic at the moment.

Jeff (FL)
Reply to  M Courtney
September 29, 2015 5:51 pm

It’s sad when an old friend goes into terminal decline. I used to work on North Sea platform design and on the Fife Ethylene project … back when the engineering profession had some reality in the U.K.

September 29, 2015 3:07 pm

“Welcome to our world.”
— the nuclear industry

Steve from Rockwood
September 29, 2015 3:17 pm

“Welcome to our world.”
— the mining industry

September 29, 2015 3:28 pm

Welcome to our world. The World.

Jeff (FL)
September 29, 2015 3:29 pm

Россия приветствует вас!

Reply to  Jeff (FL)
September 29, 2015 3:36 pm

if that translates to what I think it does …too funny!

Gunga Din
Reply to  Jeff (FL)
September 29, 2015 3:48 pm

“Russia welcomes you”?

Jeff (FL)
Reply to  Gunga Din
September 29, 2015 5:53 pm

Yep – even Да 🙂

Reply to  Jeff (FL)
September 29, 2015 4:22 pm

Manusque vestras servate sordidis manibus est depositio tabernaculi mei deserta.

Jeff (FL)
Reply to  Menicholas
September 29, 2015 6:30 pm

Item, nihil conantur adpulsu in Europa.
Latin, why did it have to be Latin? 🙂

Gunga Din
September 29, 2015 3:45 pm

“California Dreamin'” regulations have shut down or priced out of the market a number of US industries. (Along with labor cost.)
Many of them have moved overseas were both are less. Are we or the world better off?

Reply to  Gunga Din
September 30, 2015 6:45 am

One thing that I have noticed is that many of the people who whine the loudest about companies that ship “our” jobs overseas, are among the first to demand higher taxes on businesses and more regulations on them.

September 29, 2015 3:50 pm

I don’t blame them….the rest of the world has already quit us

Leo Smith
September 29, 2015 4:15 pm

The net result of political interference in any business is that you wont want to make long term investments in the field in case the government changes and political expediency forces top to abandon multi billion investments.

September 29, 2015 4:23 pm

I expect that the risk reward at <$50 a barrel just doesn't add up.

Reply to  dam1953
September 29, 2015 10:33 pm

Yep it’s pretty simple. The Greens will take credit, the person I can’t name (as “person from Kenya”gets comments into moderation) will take credit but ultimately it’s not viable at this price. Virtually no project is.

Reply to  Andrew
September 30, 2015 6:59 am

It’s also possible that estimates for oil & gas in the Arctic were over-estimated.

September 29, 2015 4:24 pm

The opening lines of this article are incomprehensible. Is this a Google translation from Korean?
What is “an initial rank wildcat”? What do wildcats have to do with plays? And what do plays have to do with oil production? (If “wildcat” is used in the oil-drilling sense, that has a connection with oil-production.)
And “Only massively incompetent government can kill a play” just isn’t true. Really bad reviews can kill a play. Burning down the theatre on opening night can kill a play.

The other Ed Brown
Reply to  RoHa
September 29, 2015 4:56 pm

Someone forgot to give RoHa her bowl of milk?

Reply to  The other Ed Brown
September 29, 2015 8:52 pm

Can you translate that into English?

Reply to  The other Ed Brown
September 30, 2015 4:57 am

@ RoHa
Yr: “Can you translate that into English?”
I dunno about any English translation, but the Korean translates as “RoHa, sit down and take some slow, deep breaths. Then go and have a cup of tea.”
P. S. Did you notice, RoHa, how I considerately indicated, via a “sarc”-tag, that my comment was intended as just a joshin’-around bit of knee-slappin’, ironic, regular-guy, good-humor, and everything, as a precaution against you goin’ off all fulmination-booger, ape-shit spastic-“whinger” on moi, just because my comment might inadvertently “jerk your chain”, due a teeny-weeny, little, cultural-context misunderstanding? See how it works?

Reply to  The other Ed Brown
September 30, 2015 5:36 am

The Korean is sound advice, applicable to a lot of situations. I shall do just that.

Reply to  The other Ed Brown
September 30, 2015 6:32 am

Oops! I misplaced my response so that it’s now at the bottom of the comments. So let me try again,
Yr. “The Korean is sound advice…”
Good response, RoHa. Glad we can both enjoy a little tit-for-tat good-fun. And you’ve even gotten me cautiously thinkin’ about that “cup of tea” business.

Reply to  RoHa
September 30, 2015 8:55 am

“wildcat” means a well in an unproved area. “Rank” means one of the first. “Plays” mean fields or formations.
These are oilfield terms. Like most industry, the have developed their own terms. The worst are TLA (three letter acronyms) that are used ubiquitously.

Reply to  David Middleton
September 30, 2015 9:29 pm

You are correct. Complete incompetence specifically in the USFW Service is responsible for this debacle. They were late in the permitting process, and incompetent and incoherent in the policy and permitting that they ended up making absurd permitting constraints that limited Shell to be able to drill only one well at a time, leaving the other rig in stand-by…wasting millions of dollars per week on a constraint they couldn’t explain or defend, but would not modify (i.e., drilling rigs could not simultaneously drill less than 15nm apart). Burger J and V are closer to 12nm apart, so one rig was in stand by, at over 3/4 million flushed down the toilet each day.
The environmental lackeys one the day. But I’d seriously doubt anyone of them care that all those communities on the Chukchi coast will slide back into abject poverty with unemployment rates approaching 50%, high suicide rates, and no hope except for handouts from the state of Alaska and the feds.

September 29, 2015 5:04 pm

Contrary to some alarmists claims, the money spent on exploration is not a complete loss. The information gained will be filed away for future reference. Climates are cyclical, political, economic and environmental.
Regime change is coming. The market will likely look a lot different in a year or two.
Alarmists are rejoicing over Shell’s move, but seem unaware that the low price of oil will also cripple so called “renewables”.
Completely fact free propaganda here!
Ad here.

Reply to  amirlach
September 29, 2015 6:23 pm

Nothing says “Buy me, Use me, Need me, Burn me” louder than cheap fuel.

Claude Harvey
Reply to  amirlach
September 29, 2015 7:08 pm

Nothing kills renewables. National economic ruin can’t kill renewables. Free oil wouldn’t kill renewables. Renewables are and always have been independent of conventional economics in which costs-versus-benefits are rationally weighed. They’re the spawn of a “Green” religion where “faith” is the coin of the realm.

Reply to  Claude Harvey
September 30, 2015 2:10 am

“Nothing kills renewables” – renewables would die of starvation without the gigantic government subsidies.

Reply to  amirlach
September 29, 2015 7:40 pm

Renewable s will not be crippled with actions like this w/o State approval, it is scary how the Administration manages to push costly renewable s.

Reply to  Catcracking
September 30, 2015 12:06 am

“Rhode Island began construction on Deepwater Wind’s $225 million, 30-megawatt offshore wind project in July.”
That tells me all that I need to know.
No idea was ever more dumb than the siting of wind turbines in DEEP WATER.
I can no longer be bothered to explain to people why that is quite obviously very dumb.
I am reduced to the rhetorical question, “has my own generation gone completely insane?”

Norbert Twether
Reply to  Catcracking
September 30, 2015 2:41 am

Interesting webite that shows energy production in the UK in more-or-less real time (note the huge contribution from wind – sarc). Also look at the French equivalent to see how much is from nuclear – and how reliable that is) ………

Reply to  Catcracking
September 30, 2015 6:48 am

frog: Not all of them, just a majority of the voters.

September 29, 2015 5:16 pm

If you think Alaska is a difficult place to drill, you should try it in certain developing countries.
Regulatory quality in developing countries includes stopping drilling because it might cause a tsunami (yes I have seen this).

Reply to  thingadonta
September 29, 2015 10:35 pm

I assume the tsunami risk could have been dealt with by paying a suitable “inspection fee”, ruling out the drilling being in a tsunami risk zone?

September 29, 2015 5:46 pm

Bureaucrat Regulation always destroys the society that they manage. ALWAYS! It is their nature to grow.
It is them or us. We don’t need them…pg

Reply to  p.g.sharrow
September 29, 2015 6:26 pm

It is them or us. We don’t need them …

Our civil servants fill an extremely useful function in society. The problem arises when they start to think of us as the servants and them as the masters. The EPA comes immediately to mind in that regard.

Reply to  commieBob
September 30, 2015 5:01 pm

What gentle reader, is a bureaucrat? A hired janitor who thinks he owns the building – Ezra Pound

James at 48
September 29, 2015 6:01 pm

The D word. That no amount of quantitative easing will overcome. Deflation.

Reply to  James at 48
September 29, 2015 6:25 pm

True. If a thing will be cheaper tomorrow, why buy it today?
And nothing kills an economy faster or more surely than wallets snapping closed.

Reply to  Menicholas
September 29, 2015 6:54 pm

Typical “consensus” economic BS. We hear that every days on the media, and it makes no sense whatsoever.
People buy food today because they want to eat today.
Computers are getting cheaper and more powerful every year, people know that, and still buy computers.
And even when stuff doesn’t get cheaper every year, people will even borrow money to get something today that they could buy it for less next year. Because they need it now or want it now.
Only the “mainstream” (ie as clueless as a climate scientist) pretend the economy doesn’t work like a 8 years old thinks it does, they say real economy is not intuitive and based on common sense, but it really is (like the scientific process).

Reply to  Menicholas
September 30, 2015 1:13 am

simple-touriste, good points. All true for individual decisions.
But do those points apply to Corporate Investment?
Where people need to make collective decisions the easiest decision is always to not stick your neck out and kick it down the road.
Deflation makes that choice justifiable. So it becomes the only choice for large corporations, NGOs and Governments.
And that slows the economy.

Adam Gallon
Reply to  Menicholas
September 30, 2015 4:50 am

If I need something today, if I can afford it, I’ll buy it.
Only Governments love inflation, as it effectively reduces the amount they’ve borrowed.

Reply to  Menicholas
September 30, 2015 6:51 am

With the exception of food, pretty much everything that consumers buy, could be delayed by a few weeks or months. If consumers start buying new cars every 5 years instead of every 4, that’s a 25% drop in the number of new cars sold every year.

September 29, 2015 8:47 pm

“Disappointing results from an initial rank wildcat can’t kill a play.
The cyclical ups and downs of product prices can’t kill a play.
High operating costs can’t kill a play.
Only massively incompetent government can kill a play.”
Of course disappointing results can kill a play. From Shell’s statement: “Shell has found indications of oil and gas in the Burger J well, but these are not sufficient to warrant further exploration in the Burger prospect…..this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.” Let’s go through your logic: Shell spends billions over many years to get ready to drill in Alaska, and eventually meet all regulatory requirements, and get the go ahead from the Obama administration (over the objections of environmentalists). Shell received the approval they sought. Shell fits out a rig, and moves it to Alaska, then drills the Burger J exploration well. You are saying that Shell then stop all activities due to the federal government. That makes absolutely no sense.
And of course high operating costs can kill a play. Here’s a graphic of the active oil rig count in the US: Note the decline in rigs, even in extremely oil friendly states such as Texas.

Reply to  Chris
September 29, 2015 9:45 pm

@ Chris, It is called a surplus driven by a dead world economy, next answer? A war just to drive industry and consumption.

Reply to  asybot
September 29, 2015 11:42 pm

@asybot, no, if you look at historical trends, oil consumption is still going up, there has been no decline: See the bottom of p. 9 for total global demand for every year since 2004.

Reply to  David Middleton
September 30, 2015 11:50 pm

I know what an oil and gas play is, but thanks for checking. I do not work in the oil and gas sector, but have friends that do here in Asia where I live. They tell me that multiple multi billion dollar offshore rig projects have been canceled or delayed indefinitely due to low prices – and these are in sites with much more promising initial results than Shell experienced. Obama approved Shell’s request for drilling in April, less than 6 months ago. Shell sent a rig to Alaska in May, and started drilling at the end of July/early August. What specific regulatory environment changes happened between the approval date in April and end September 2015?

George Tetley
September 30, 2015 12:32 am

Looking at a blown up photo of the European immigrant disaster I see the Number 1 problem in the world today! Taking a count, 132 immigrants (male 108-female 32 ) so called journalists/cameramen 43

David Cage
September 30, 2015 1:25 am

What kills Arctic exploration is doing your costings on the basis of three times the ice free time that actually happened as much as lower end pricing.

David Cage
Reply to  David Middleton
October 1, 2015 11:17 pm

Headaches mean one of two things. either they reveal problems cheaply avoided or they reveal problems of really much higher than planned overheads and lower than planned reliability. In this case they revealed the latter at a time of low returns on investment.

Chris Schoneveld
September 30, 2015 2:35 am

“Disappointing results from an initial rank wildcat can’t kill a play.”
Yes it can. I have been in oil exploration all my professional life. If you drill a first well in a basin basically as a stratigraphic test so you can identify what the seismic character represents lithologically, the result may for instance indicate that there is no reservoir/seal pair that can optimally trap hydrocarbons. I remember we entered a new play/basin in Vietnam and the first well killed the whole play because it was a thick sandy sequence with ample shale to seal a potential reservoir.

Reply to  Chris Schoneveld
September 30, 2015 3:12 am

“Kill a play” is oilman talk, is it?
What does it mean?

Juan Slayton
Reply to  RoHa
September 30, 2015 3:30 am
Reply to  RoHa
September 30, 2015 5:33 am

Thanks, Juan. Now I can make sense of the opening lines.
(It would have been helpful if the writer had given some indication of the meaning for us non-oil drillers, but perhaps he has been in the business so long that he thinks everyone knows the terminology.)

Chris Schoneveld
Reply to  David Middleton
October 2, 2015 5:53 am

Sorry David, I reread what I wrote, I meant the opposite. This is because I used the wrong word “ample”. In Dutch (for me confusingly) we say “amper” which translate into “hardly any” and that is what I should have said..

Ivor Ward
September 30, 2015 2:36 am

Meanwhile the Russians just get on with it……….

September 30, 2015 6:23 am

Yr: “The Korean is sound advice…”
Good response, RoHa. Glad we can both enjoy a little tit-for-tat good-fun. And you’ve even gotten me cautiously thinkin’ about that “cup of tea” business!

September 30, 2015 6:43 am

This is a win-win for govt.
They get to kill drilling in the Arctic, without having to suffer the heat over an outright ban.

September 30, 2015 8:01 am

“Welcome to our world.”
– Basically anything outside of the legal industry and maybe its select allies in journalism, political science, and public relations.

Walt Stone
September 30, 2015 1:32 pm

I want to see the logs.
Or is this going to be tight hole?

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